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Review: 'Mad Men' Returns With A Confident 2-Hour Premiere That Proves It's Still The Best Show On TV

Photo of Cory Everett By Cory Everett | http://modage.tumblr.com/ April 7, 2013 at 11:00PM

At this point, few would argue that "Mad Men" doesn't deserve to be listed as one of the greatest television shows of the modern age, but what not many have considered until now (perhaps for fear of jinxing it) is that if it continues to be as strong as it has been, it may just top them all. Now entering its sixth season, fans of the show have been holding their breath wondering if creator Matt Weiner and co. can possibly keep this up. After all, not many shows have been able to maintain this kind of quality and consistency this far into their run. Even hall-of-famers "The Sopranos" and "The Wire" started to falter a bit by season 5, but so far "Mad Men" hasn't lost a step.
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Mad Men S6 Roger
Roger Sterling (John Slattery)
Last season Roger dropped LSD, the world opened up to him in an entirely different way and he got divorced from Jane. We last saw him naked, staring out the window, perhaps wondering what lay on the horizon. When we pick up with him in the premiere, he's in therapy trying to figure out what it's all about. It seems his happiness too, was temporary. While mortality looms over many of the characters on the show, it literally surrounds Roger here. Upon hearing that his mother has died, he seems to have almost no reaction and even treats her funeral with complete nonchalance. Bu he breaks down when he learns that Georgio, his shoeshiner, has passed away. Was he really more affected by the death of a man he barely knew over his own mother? Or was it that this man had been so quickly forgotten and he feared the same for himself?

Slattery spoke to Hitfix about Roger's journey, "I think maybe he is a late bloomer. At this stage [he's] trying to figure out something that's going to sustain a little more interest than just the things he's been up to before... through this inadvertent acid experience. I think he's opening. I think he's willing to change or willing to do what he has to to find some sort of sustained meaning in the whole thing. I think given the focus on youth that exists now, that existed probably more then, and being the age he is, there are all kinds of things that enter into the question and I think he's interested in something new." Like Don, he'll be searching for his own happiness this season trying to find that next open doorway.

Mad Men S6 Peggy
Peggy Olson (Elisabeth Moss)
Though we knew Elisabeth Moss would be returning to the show, we had no guarantee of what capacity it might be in. After all, no other character has left the SCDP (or Sterling Cooper in the old days) offices and remained a central figure on the show: Sal (Bryan Batt), Kinsey (Michael Gladis) and Duck (Mark Moses) were all dropped from the cast once their characters were given the boot only to make the occasional cameo appearances when the story demanded. Thankfully if the premiere is any indication, Peggy's role on the show will not be diminished at all, which is great news because Moss and her character have always been the crucial counterpoint to Don. Moss confirmed as much to Collider recently saying, "The only thing I can say is I'm very happy with where it's gone, I'm very happy with what's happened. I was actually pleasantly surprised by how much I have had to do in this season. I was kind of expecting not to be in it so much, because I thought, oh, I'm at a different agency. And I'm pleasantly surprised."

The SCDP creative room can't help but feel a little bit stale without Peggy there though it's nice to see her on a late night call with Stan (Jay R. Ferguson), catching up on all the latest office gossip. This show has always been great at hinting at much greater lives for our characters than the ones we get to peek in on. Stan and Peggy were at odds for much of their time together and though we never got to see the breakthrough where they eventually became friendly, it happened somewhere offscreen. In the first two hours, we see Peggy at her new job having settled into her new environment and having become very much like her old mentor. Watch her scold an underling for presenting three versions of the same idea and think back to how far she's come since the pilot. As so many of the other characters have run into walls trying to change, Peggy is perhaps the only character who if they ran into their former self, would find her completely unrecognizable.

Mad Men S6 Betty
Betty Francis (January Jones)
Betty, more than any other character on the show, has gotten a lot of hatred from the audience, which has been directed both at January Jones herself and the writers for crafting such an "unlikable" character. At this point, no matter how she tries to screw it up, it's hard not to sympathize with her, trapped in this prison of her own making. Though her husband is endlessly supportive, her beauty has begun to fade as she struggles with her weight, her mother-in-law is horribly overbearing and Sally (Kiernan Shipka), now entering her teenage years, is starting to rebel.

There's also something disconcerting about how unconditionally Henry (Christopher Stanley) loves Betty regardless of her physical appearance, mood swings and anything else she can throw at him. Sometimes it seems like she'll do anything to get a rise out of him but he just won't comply. (We're praying her kinky/jealous idea to invite their teenage houseguest into a threesome with her husband is the most cringeworthy thing she'll do all season.) Despite a house full of extended family members, Betty, too, is alone. Will her visit to St. Marks Place awaken something in her as well? Or will she retreat back to familiarity? Her rash decision to go brunette may hint at other big changes on the horizon for Betty.

Mad Men S6 Don & Megan
Final Thoughts

After "Homeland" broke the series' streak of four consecutive Emmy wins, I joked that the show would be back with a vengeance this year, imagining the notoriously competitive Weiner would no doubt want to restake his claim. (He recently admitted to the NYTimes, "It was a bad night...unpleasant.") But returning with fire and fury isn't the show's style, instead the season 6 premiere quietly, confidently reminds viewers that there really isn't and has never been anything quite like it on TV.

Few shows can capture visual poetry with such gracefulness (watch Don gazing out his office window as the sounds of the ocean fade up around him) while still being fucking funny. "How many funerals have you been to today," Pete smirks as Don stumbles into Roger's mother's wake. Never has a show been less driven by plot and more led by the characters themselves. Where they need to grow (or regress) determines which storylines will be needed to get them from A to B (and in some cases back to A). TV has rarely been so brave and may never be again. With the show scheduled to conclude after its 7th season, let's enjoy it while it lasts. [A]

This article is related to: Television, Mad Men, TV Reviews, Review


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